Songwriter Jimmy Webb On Glen Campbell: 'He Really Taught Me A Lesson In Bravery'

May 2, 2017


Jimmy Webb (@realjimmywebb) is one of the world's greatest songwriters. His list of hits, including "Up Up and Away," Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park," has been recorded by Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt and countless other artists.

He writes about his rise to fame in a new memoir called "The Cake and the Rain," and he joins Here & Now's Robin Young to talk about it ahead of a special tribute concert Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.

Robin's Note: Here's my favorite Jimmy Webb song, "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," sung by Webb.

Interview Highlights

On his upbringing and the beginning of his life in music

"It starts out almost as a pastoral. I was truly a laborer, a farm laborer, and when my father got behind the pulpit and began preaching, I brought my work ethic to the First Baptist Church. And by the time I was 12 years old, I was the church pianist. That was my mother's... she thought that was the apex of show business. I think as you read along, you realize that, 'Hey, this is getting to be something that this guy is not able to handle.' "

On his drug use, and navigating the music industry

"I mention in the book that I read somewhere something about me and drugs, and thought to myself, 'Now we're getting somewhere.' And I know that's, it's a very bad joke, but I actually was trying very hard to be in that club. It was a very exclusive club. Linda Ronstadt would tell me, years later she would say, 'Who did we think we were setting ourselves up in a kind of hierarchy and keeping some people out?' John Denver and Donny Osmond, they weren't in. So you really had to establish, one had to establish one's credentials as a lefty, as a liberal, which I was anyway. But Gil Scott-Heron, when he wrote that poem about 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,' he sort of went out of his way to say that the song of the revolution would not be written by Jimmy Webb. And it was those kinds of slights, if you will, that I felt were uncalled for, because they were judging me because Glen Campbell cut my tunes."

"I very nearly didn't [survive]. There was part of me that was trying to stay alive. There was like another part of me that said, 'Well, if The Beatles are doing it, and if they want you to do it, then you should be doing it. I wanna be in this.' But I think that I managed to chart some territory for myself as an artist."

On hearing Frank Sinatra sing one of his songs

"I can remember hearing Frank Sinatra, Mr. Sinatra, sing one of my songs on the radio. And I'm driving in my Mercedes 405 SEL. And just for a minute, it hit me. I'm a part of this moment, and I don't know how this happened. And it would be almost like a moment of absolute terror, confusion. When you look of some of the contemporary artists and the way they've left us in very tragic ways, and you go, 'How could that happen? So much promise.' And it's because they are overtaken by events."

On his relationship with Glen Campbell

"When I was 14 years old, I got down on my knees beside the bed, because I'd heard a Glen Campbell record called 'Turn Around, Look at Me.' And I believe it was perhaps four and a half or five years later, that I was driving down the Santa Ana Freeway and heard Glen Campbell singing 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix.' It was a magical meshing of talents. I had been writing Glen Campbell songs in my mind. I was ready for Glen Campbell.

"Well the first thing he ever said to me was, 'When you gonna get a haircut?' And yet, I found out very quickly, that there was hardly anyone who could stand on the same level as he could stand as a guitarist. And could stand behind me, watch my hands moving on the piano and just play along on the guitar, which is like a virtual impossibility.

"And partially, because of the tension, I think, between us, out of that came, I think, some of the, maybe some of the nicest records of that period."

On the tribute concert

"The main reason, I'm doing the concert because he really taught me a lesson in bravery. He taught me a lesson in what it really means to be a man, when he contracted [Alzheimer's disease] and the way he dealt with it. And I've grown up a lot since I met Glen."